Personally, Duty-Free has always been a place I visit whenever I’m desperate to use up leftover currency. Not enough change to get something of value, but definitely enough to get a bag of candy haha. However, I started to get curious about Duty-Free after I got talking to a stranger sat nearby who had literally shopped until she dropped. Our conversation inspired me to do some research. Are there genuine deals to be found between all the fancy packaging and delicate bottles? You know, I even asked a few retail assistants about their best tips. So, if you want some insight in a less-than-three-minute-reading-time-post, you know what to do!
In simple terms, Duty-Free shopping refers to something being tax-free in country of store location. However, this is not to be confused with importing taxes. For example, if I purchase something which has no tax at a Duty-Free store in the US then there might be a custom tax when I try to bring that item back into the UK. Costs for importing an item vary from country to country, although these costs usually apply when there are high quantities or values. Put it this way, you most likely won’t be charged custom fees for brining two bottles of perfume and a bag of chocolate into a country!
Duty-Free stores feature many items which are known to be highly taxable, on a general level, across the globe. Some of these include Tobacco, Alcohol, Cosmetics and Perfumes. In this sense, if your home country has high-tax rates then it might be more logical for your wallet to purchase these items when abroad. In fact, there are other benefits to purchasing certain items at Duty-Free. One retail assistant told me there are products which are exclusive to airports, as some brands create exclusive travel-sized gifts for travellers or limited edition versions. Now that I think about it, I have definitely seen stickers on packing with the words ‘Exclusive to Duty-Free’ before. It all makes sense now.
As I picked up a perfume, Juicy Couture Gold if you were wondering haha, I asked the sales assistant if there was anything she wished passengers would know about Duty-Free. To my surprise, I actually got an answer. Two, in fact. The first was that Duty-Free offer gift-wrapping, confirmed on the official World Duty-Free webpage for items bought instore, and that staff can usually throw in a sample or two if you ask. These samples range from luxury perfume cards to individually-sized chocolates. The second answer spilled was that many people assume Duty-Free is cheaper than high-street, but this isn’t always the case. To me, this seemed obvious because there is no way a box of Oreo cookies would cost 5 Euros in a supermarket! However, I started to apply the same logic to other things within sight, such as sunglasses and purses. A quick Google search will let you know if an item is selling for cheaper elsewhere. Ahh the joys of technology, eh?
Interestingly, according to an article featured on SmarterTravel in 2019, there were a few specific airports where the purchase of certain products became popular. As stated on the site, Kiev, Madrid and Grand Cayman were referenced for purchasing Liquors at Duty-Free. For cosmetics, London Heathrow, Dubai and Vienna received a shout-out. For fragrance, London Heathrow, Madrid and Porto were top. Finally, for tobacco, Singapore, Hong Kong and Bangkok were mentioned. I can personally vouch for purchasing liquors in Kiev, as the first things I noticed were extremely attractive prices and vast selections hehe.
After my interaction with Duty-Free staff, dates with the web on this topic and personal experience, do I think Duty-Free is worth it? Besides a generic answer of ‘it depends where you go and what you buy’, I would say I am more intrigued by limited edition products only found at airports rather than savings themselves. The potential savings at Duty-Free could be found elsewhere with some patience because if something is reduced on the high-street, it could be cheaper than the competitive price at Duty-Free. However, that exclusive Duty-Free scent becomes more tricky to track down. In a world where the web can bring up different prices within seconds, I would Google the item before purchase to view all my options. Having said that, I will definitely be spending more time looking for hidden gems at the airport, particularly when sale season approaches. Those travel-exclusives cosmetics sure know how to catch my eye…
Until then, see you in the next post!